COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's highest court, two days after pausing plans for a rare firing squad execution, announced Friday that it was putting another execution on hold as inmates challenge the constitutionality of the state's capital punishment methods.
The temporary stay issued by the state Supreme Court means the planned May 13 execution of Brad Keith Sigmon won't move forward for now.
The order comes after the court this week temporarily blocked the state from executing Richard Bernard Moore, whose scheduled April 29 execution would have marked the country's first firing squad execution since 2010.
Moore and Sigmon were scheduled to be the first people executed in South Carolina after a 2021 law made electrocution the state's default capital punishment method and also gave death row prisoners the option of execution by firing squad. Sigmon had not so far not chosen an execution method.
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Lawyers for both men had sought stays, citing pending litigation in another court challenging the constitutionality of South Carolina’s execution methods.
The state Supreme Court has provided little explanation on exactly why the executions have been delayed and for how long they will be delayed, with justices indicating in both cases that more detailed orders would be forthcoming. The court did clarify Friday that prison officials shouldn't move forward with the April 29 execution.
A state judge agreed last week to examine a legal challenge brought by Moore, Sigmon and two other death row inmates who have mostly exhausted their appeals. Their lawyers argue that both electrocution and the firing squad are “barbaric” methods of killing. The prisoners’ attorneys also want the judge to closely examine prisons officials’ claims that they can’t get hold of lethal injection drugs, citing executions by that method carried out by other states and the federal government in recent years.
South Carolina’s last execution was in 2011. State officials have attributed the decadelong hiatus to an inability to secure lethal injection drugs after the state’s last batch expired in 2013. Efforts to contact manufacturers and compounding pharmacies have proved unfruitful, Corrections Department officials have repeatedly said.
The 2021 law that now requires prisoners to choose between the firing squad and the electric chair was intended to solve that problem.
State prisons officials had previously planned in June 2021 to electrocute Sigmon, a 64-year-old who has spent nearly two decades on death row after he was convicted in 2002 of killing his ex-girlfriend’s parents with a baseball bat. The high court put that execution plan on hold, saying Sigmon needed to have a choice between the electric chair and the firing squad.
Prison officials said last month that they had finished a $53,600 overhaul of its death chamber to accommodate a firing squad and established protocols calling for three volunteer prison workers with rifles to carry out such an execution.
South Carolina is one of eight states to still use the electric chair and one of four to allow a firing squad, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
Elsewhere in the South, Tennessee's governor called off his state’s first scheduled execution Thursday since the start of the pandemic. The Republican governor, Bill Lee, had said there was an unspecified “oversight" in plans to give a lethal injection to 72-year-old inmate Oscar Smith. Lee declined to release additional details on Friday.